Just about every business news outlet has used the term "new normal" to describe the current global economic conditions: Limited or no growth. Layoffs and high unemployment. Unstable stock markets. It has become, over the past three years, the environment to which many have become accustomed. Warning: this complacency kills deals.
Through my executive development and sales training work, I see what happens when people give themselves the plausible excuse that comes with a weak economy. "It’s not me; the economy is affecting everyone." The daily challenge of creating opportunities can subdue even the most motivated teams.
The economic climate has given the perception that all companies are struggling so, some people justify sales being down. I tell my clients that remaining relevant is paramount. Sales aren’t off for everyone and companies are doing business. But are they doing business with you? They will only if they consider your service or product as critical, not a commodity.
The new challenges businesses face are unprecedented but that they must be overcome with new thinking, new ideas, new solutions. It’s no longer good enough to just maintain business relationships. Those relationships must be created anew so that customers are given a fresh perspective on your business and they see how you can help them through these economic times. You and your team become part of the solution.
I was recently working with a financial company that markets bonds. The team had run up against a common block when speaking with their customers: "We’re already covered." What I observed was that this response stopped the conversation and I could see individuals adopting a "new normal" attitude of "Not that again. Well, there’s nothing I can do." I set to work, getting them to take that response and turn it into a more in-depth conversation. A simple "I understand. I get that a lot from customers. But you know this company was founded on some unique principles. They are the reason I work here. Can I tell you about that?" Now the team member has a chance to deliver the company’s value proposition...the special sauce!
As companies begin 2012, many are operating at a new level of urgency with a sense that every transaction is critical to the success of the business. They have year-end goals to meet and they can only focus on solutions that will get them there. Teams and individuals selling to these businesses must understand how the "new normal" affects their customers’ operations. And this comprehension comes from asking the right questions.:
- Have our customers had to change their business model?
- Where are they most at risk?
- How has the economy created opportunity to get a leg up on competitors?
The days of presenting your product’s general benefits/functionality and then getting a sale are over. Your teams must ask what a company’s critical needs are, understand from where those needs arose and create a long-term solution. It is critical they be considered trusted advisers, not salespeople. The former produces far more results but takes far more effort as well.
In a recent example, I was working with a well-known Fortune 100 company. The executives felt their associates needed better comprehension of the each customer’s business outlook so that they could anticipate needs two-three years out. The "new normal" was: "our customers are facing hard times and they just aren’t interested in spending with us." How defeatist! I worked to turn them around, getting them to demonstrate genuine interest in their customers’ businesses. They needed to get in there with their customers, find the pain points and recommend solutions that would last for years, not just quick fixes. And, they need confidence in their recommendations. It was important they believed their solutions would work, not just hoped that they would.
The "new normal" won’t last forever but, it will be some time before things return to the robust environment many businesses enjoyed prior to the recession. Until that time, I urge executives to make sure their teams are proactively creating new relationships, even with existing customers, that are based on the current environment each customer is facing. Create a NEW new normal!
—Author Steve Giglio has more than 20 years experience with Fortune 500 companies by creating training programs aimed at improving communciations skills in mission-critical scenarios; clients include American Express, Conde Nast, Lexis/Nexis, TimeOUT NY, and Moody’s. He is the author of Beating the Deal Killers: Overcoming Murphy’s Law. Contact him at email@example.com or at giglioco.com.
[Image: Flickr user Jeff The Trojan]